The birthplace of printed books, Christmas trees, lightbulbs, and motorcycles, Germany has also blessed the register of UNESCO World Heritage with 41 cultural sites, 3 natural sites, and 17 Memory of the World listings, including the Gutenberg Bible, island-born Ottonian illuminated manuscripts, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and the oldest known illustration of the sky. Altogether, the historic 44-site ensemble of castles, medieval towns, cathedrals, and gardens paints a 2,000-year history of European culture and a 57-million-year history of Earth’s living environment.
From timber-framed Bavaria to off-the-radar Thuringia, the 37 sites featured above commemorate a glitzy and gritty cross section of towering trees, snaky fossils, and ancient relics from every corner of Deutschland. With one third of the country canopied by forest and no speed limits to speak of, one zippy road trip can lead from artsy Bauhaus costume parties to adventurous Ice Age treasure hunts.
Cait Etherton is a Virginia-based writer and frequent contributor to National Geographic Travel. Follow her journey on Twitter.